Modeling excellence: fast-track to success or reckless road to ruin?

Scroll down ↓


Open any book on success, personal development or self-help and, without fail, you’ll find a section on “modeling success.” There, you’ll be told to find people who’ve done what you’ve done, study how they did it, then replicate their thoughts, steps and actions. Doing so, you’ll discover, will vault you past roadblocks and dramatically accelerate your path to success. It’s far easier to travel a road than to build it.

Problem is, while modeling the right person and the right process can be a catalyst for success, modeling the wrong person and the wrong processes can lead you spiraling down the road to ruin. Question is—how do you know which is which?

What is modeling?

Modeling in the world of success-training is a two step process:

  • Reverse-engineer the precise thoughts, decisions and actions that have led to a specific result, then…
  • Replicate, as systematically as possible, the precise steps and actions that have been taken before you to succeed at what the person you’re modelling has already achieved.

Modeling the right person and process can be a great accelerant.

Let’s take the challenge of getting your book onto the bestseller list as an example. For any author, becoming a bestseller is a dream come true, especially if the bestseller list you make is the New York Times. It carries not only status, but huge economic value.

Problem is, getting onto any of the major print-media bestseller lists is also nearly impossible. Of the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, only a handful make it.

But, a few years back, a very crafty new author and his marketing team realized that if he could get his book to the top of the sales list, even for a few minutes, he could call himself a bestseller. So, he created a campaign that harnessed the e-mal lists of a bunch of people he knew and blasted a very special offer to them. In the e-mail, the list owners asked people to buy his book on a specific day and time at and, in exchange, they would get thousands of dollars of free bonuses.

The campaign worked like a charm and the one-day spike in volume sent the book to the top of the bestseller list for a few hours that day. From that point on, he introduced himself as a bestselling author.

Since then, the fairly mechanical steps that have become known as the Amazon bestseller campaign have been studied, digested and replicated by hundreds of others. Indeed, it’s now even being taught in workshops for a lot of money. With enough effort (and funds), pretty much anyone can model this author’s system, pull of the process and replicate this author’s success. But, not all processes can or should be modeled. In fact…

Modeling the wrong person or process can lead to outright disaster.

I’ve always been fascinated by the financial markets. That’s why I specialized in securities and mergers & acquisitions as a lawyer. But my interest lay more in the psychology of trading, so I read everything I could get my hands on that dealt with the subject. From magazines to textbooks to newsletter, I was possessed.

I studied the systems, histories and approaches of some of the greatest traders, talked my way into secret sessions where world-class traders revealed their secrets and even paid to learn a number of others’ systems. And, because many of the books and articles I read talked about the modeling great traders, I did everything I could to try to reverse-engineer the methodologies, decisions, behaviors and actions.

Then, one day, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. Rather than model a great trader, I took it one step further and actually paid to learn the exact system used by a very successful currency trader. The system was supposed to reflect the distilled knowledge of this trader and the trading signals would mimic his own buy and sell decisions and actions. It did this flawlessly, but…

I lost tens of thousands of dollars using it. Why?

Because trading systems are not good subjects for modeling unless the person using the system is also the person who was modeled to create it or has a nearly identical personality, emotional and risk-tolerance profile.

This trading system was built around the highly-specific personality preferences, emotional and risk tolerance levels and industry-comfort of that trader. So, when that trader’s approach said buy or sell, he could comfortably pull the trigger, because the system modeled jived with his levels of risk tolerance and aversion.

But, unfortunately, my personality, risk tolerance and industry knowledge were very different than his. So even though I studied his system and knew the basis for the trades, I didn’t have the will to endure the wild swings in leverage and equity that the system accumulated along the way to wealth.

When the first losing trade hit my account, I was wounded, but knew the trading history of the star-trader and his system, so I stuck with it. When the second one hit, I was seriously rattled. The third consecutive loss really shook me. After the fourth, I lost faith in the system and decided to just paper trade the next signal, rather than putting real-money at risk.

Had I traded real-money, that fifth trade would have not only made back all my losses, but doubled my opening balance. But, by then, though, it was too late. I was emotionally cooked and could not longer follow the modeled system.

I realized that, while the system, rules and actions were remarkably successful for the person who developed them, they were so contrary to who I was, I could never follow them. And, therein lies the rub with modeling success.

Modeling can work beautifully, but there is a huge “if.”

If the process you seek to model is fairly mechanical, based upon systematic steps that do not rely heavily on the unique psychological traits of the person being modeled, you’re probably good-to-go. If, however, the process you seek to model is deeply tied to the unique psychological preferences and traits of the person being modeled, you need to be much more careful.

In that case, for modeling to be successful, your personality, risk-tolerance and thought-processes must resonate deeply with the person who’s behavior you are modeling. If they don’t, your efforts will very likely fail, because you won’t be able to stick to the system.

Critical attributes of a “model-able” success system

The amazon bestseller campaign is an example of a person and process that is fairly easy to model, because it is:

  1. Formulaic,
  2. Mechanical,
  3. Capable of being observed or reverse-engineered,
  4. Capable to being taught, learned and enacted by others, and
  5. Not reliant upon:
    1. Highly-specialized or unique personality-preferences or emotional states of the person who developed it or
    2. The very specific risk-tolerance profile of the person who created the campaign.

These are the core attributes of a system that is not only (a) capable of being easily modeled, but also (b) capable of being followed (which is really just the final step in modelling). This type of modeled system can fairly easily replicate the results of the person being modeled across a broad spectrum of people who follow the system.

The more a process relies upon the unique emotional, personality or risk-tolerance preferences of the person being modeled, though, the harder system will be to follow. That makes it far less likely than you’ll be able to replicate the success of the person being modeled unless you have a remarkably similar emotional and personality profile.

NLP & modeling

While modeling has been around for a long time, drawn largely out of the field of knowledge-engineering, in the 1970s, two extremely bright guys named Richard Bandler and John Grinder took modeling to a whole new level.

Seeking to replicate the results of world-class therapists, most notably Dr. Milton Erickson, they spent years observing and creating an approach to modeling that sought to integrate not only the mechanical, behavioral steps, but the much harder to observe thinking, feeling and intuiting steps that often inform the actions of successful people.

This evolved into a core element of what is now known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP and, along with the language patterns and analytic processes that evolved out of Grinder and Bandler’s quest to understand replicable-excellence, it has become a hugely effective tool. But, still, every tool has it’s limitations.

In the end

Enacting basic steps, behaviors and processes that rely very little on unique personality emotional responses and risk-tendencies is a pretty safe and, often, fruitful pursuit. And, modeling the right person and the right behaviors is a powerful accelerant for success. Modeling the wrong person, though, can lead to absolute disaster.

Of course, an interesting question, for me, has been whether you might actually be able to use a modeled system to change your own emotional reactions and risk-tolerance preferences in preparation for use of another modeled system that might otherwise conflict with you are.

I don’t the answer to that, but I’d love to know your thoughts on it, as well as hear about your successes, challenges and even negative outcomes (even the failures are giant learning opportunities) below in the comment section.

Join our Email List for Weekly Updates

And join this amazing community of makers and doers. You know you wanna...

5 responses

5 responses to “Modeling excellence: fast-track to success or reckless road to ruin?”

  1. Dear Jonathan –

    I am enjoying your articles.

    “Modeling” scares me. We are all so different. I remember that Amazon promotion. I even bought the book at the exact time because I knew the author and wanted to help.

    It was a good book by the way. But it didn’t make it in the long run.

    Listening to people who have been successful is a different horse.

    You can then take their ideas and make them your own. If they fit.

    I have always been in the sales and promotion industry and I have found that when money is the objective, it always backfires.

    My theory is that we should promise less and deliver more.

    We have to keep our purpose clean. I have never become rich but I have always made a living with that goal in mind.

    Keep up the good work. We are listening.


    Corinne Edwards

  2. Jonathan Fields says:

    Hey Corinne,

    Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I have prety mixed feelings about modeling, too. I know that, applied to the right behavior and with the right intention, it can have some pretty powerful results, but those are two pretty major prerequisites that a lot of folks often get wrong (hey, me included).

    Plus, though modeling and copying are two different things, I think they get used interchangeably a lot, which just deepens the confusion about what modeling is and isn’t.

    Have an awesome week ahead and thanks again or joining in the conversation!

  3. Shama Hyder says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    I think modeling, like everything else in life, is really situational based and requires sifting.

    You take what works and leave what doesn’t.

    Here is my method-study many models, take what works, and create your own model.


  4. […] Jonathan Fields placed an observative post today on Modeling excellence: fast-track to success or reckless road to ruin?.Here’s a quick excerpt:Open any book on success, personal development or self-help and, without fail, you’ll find a section on “modeling success.” There, you’ll be told to find people who’ve done what you’ve done, study how they did it, then replicate their … […]

  5. Patrick Badstibner says:

    Modeling is really only good as lessons learned. What you share is not so much modeling as mimicking, because we are not puppets, we can never be completely successful mimics. In the consulting and mentoring field, I have found most are like children, the have to learn the hard way. The biggest secret to success is perspiration. Since no one else can perspire for me, I guess I am left to my own demise.

    Thanks for a great post, as always very encouraging read.